Emergency Room or Urgent Care?

Where to Go When You Need Help

November 10, 2019

No matter how cautious you are or how carefully you prepare, health emergencies can happen. When you or someone you love is injured or experiencing serious symptoms, you know it’s important to get help fast—but do you know where to go? In situations like this, a common question is, “Should I go to the ER or Urgent Care?” Here’s a general guide from the experts at Better Health Advisors:

If a health problem seems life-threatening or may require a hospital stay, go to the emergency room immediately, or call 911 if you need an ambulance. Emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can help with any medical situation, but may cost much more than a visit to urgent care. An ER visit often involves a long wait.

Go to the Emergency Room for:

  • Broken bones protruding from the skin
  • Chest pain
  • Constant vomiting
  • Continuous bleeding
  • Deep wounds that may require stitches (especially on the face)
  • Dislocated joints
  • Fainting or unconsciousness
  • Fevers accompanied by a rash
  • Fevers (in infants)
  • Head or eye injuries
  • Poisoning
  • Seizures (without a previous epilepsy diagnosis)
  • Serious burns
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Stroke (symptoms include vision loss, sudden numbness, weakness, slurred speech and confusion)
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
  • Weakness or pain in an arm or leg

Think of urgent care as a gentler alternative to the ER for help with minor emergencies and immediate health care needs. If your primary care doctor doesn’t have an appointment available and you need to be seen quickly, go to urgent care. Urgent care facilities are usually open 7 days a week, with extended hours in evenings and weekends. Urgent care visits are often covered by insurance with a co-pay. If paying out-of-pocket, the average cost is about $150 for a basic evaluation and treatment, and are menu driven for additional services such as X-rays, strep tests, or IV fluids.

Go to Urgent Care for:

  • Animal and bug bites
  • Coughing and sore throat
  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Ear infections
  • Flu and cold symptoms
  • Immunizations such as flu shots
  • Mild fevers (adults)
  • Minor burns
  • Pink eye or other minor eye problems
  • Rashes (without a fever)

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